History of the Book in India

Course Organiser: Miss Aakriti Mandhwani
26-30 June

This course aims to give students an introduction to the history of the book in India – both manuscript and printed – from the 1st century CE to the present day. It will also examine the interplay of manuscript and print with the transmission of text through orature and performance traditions.  It will highlight the influence of different faiths on manuscript production and illustration, and the impact of printing technologies (xylography and lithography as well as typography).  It will also cover some important strands in Indian publishing history such as the relationship between India and Britain in the colonial period, and issues facing contemporary publishing.

Course Outline

Please note that this is subject to slight alteration due to a change of course tutor.


1 Overview
2 Traditions of book history in South Asia


3 The evolution of manuscript illustration and Sanskrit manuscripts in India
4 Persian manuscripts in India (possible session at British Library)
5 Braj manuscripts and Jain Ramayana


6 The prehistory of print to 1800.
7 Books and Empire and Publishing in the 19th century.
8 Visit to the School of Oriental and African Studies Library to examine some early printed books from India.


9 Lucknow as literary and commercial centre: The case of Naval Kishore Press (Urdu)
10  The commercial presses of North India (Hindi)
11 The Battala Press in Calcutta (Bengali)


12 English reading publics and their tasts in the Colonial period
13 The development of newspaper and magazine publishing


Outcomes for Students

  • Received an overview of the history of the book in India from earliest times to the present day.
  • Developed an understanding of the relationships between orature, manuscript and print through India’s dynamic culture of many languages and religions.
  • Acquired a closer insight into “the book and Empire” through the important example of India.
  • Gained a better appreciation of global book culture through India’s interconnectedness with Europe and other parts of Asia.
  • Followed a course that is not offered by any other rare book school in Europe or North America.

Recommended Introductory Reading


Banerjee, Sumanta. The Parlour and the Streets: Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1989.

Bayly, Christopher A.  Empire and information: intelligence gathering and social communication in India, 1780-1870.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Chatterjee, Rimi.  Empires of the mind: a history of the Oxford University Press in India under the Raj.  New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Goswamy, B. N.  The word is sacred; sacred is the word: the Indian manuscript tradition.  New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2006.

Gupta, Abhijit.  ‘The Indian subcontinent’, in Michael Suarez & Henry R. Woudhuysen (eds.), The book: a global history (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 553-572.

Naregal, Veena. Language Politics, Elites, and the Public Sphere. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001.

Orsini, Francesca. The Hindi Public Sphere, 1920-1940: Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Orsini, Francesca.  Pleasure and print: Popular literature and entertaining fictions in colonial north India.  New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2009.

Orsini, Francesca ed.   The history of the book in South Asia.  Farnham: Ashgate, 2013. 

Pinto, Rochelle. Between Empires: Print and Politics in Goa. New Delhi; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Shaw, Graham William. ‘South Asia’, in Simon Eliot & Jonathan Rose (ed.), A Companion to the history of the book (Blackwell Companions to Literature & Culture) (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), pp. 126-137.

Stark, Ulrike.  An empire of books: The Naval Kishore Press and the diffusion of the printed word in colonial India.  Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2007.

Venkatachalapathy, A. R.  The province of the book: scholars, scribes and scribblers in colonial Tamil Nadu.  Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2012.